CAMBODIA’S NCT Jacam Energy Company plans to more than triple its production of biodiesel made from jatropha seeds by January next year, aiming for production of up to 2,000 litres per day.
Rising prices of traditional, petroleum-based diesel fuel in the Kingdom has resulted in growing demand for biofuels this year in order to help power the nation’s electricity generators, according to company president Chheuy Sophors.
The firm’s jatropha refinery in Kampong Speu province presently produces some 600 litres of fuel per day that fetches about 3,200 riels per litre from local consumers.
In comparison, petroleum-based diesel cost a minimum of 3,450 riels per litre at local markets yesterday, according to statistics from the Ministry of Commerce.
“Jatropha farmers and owners of generators will have an opportunity to increase their income when we increase our biodiesel production,” Chheuy Sophors said.
Jatropha is a quick-growing tropical plant. Its seeds can be crushed to oil for biodiesel production.
It has potential to produce a large amount of energy compared to the area required to grow, compared to other fuel-producing crops, according to a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation report issued earlier this year.
However, relatively little research has been done into the crop, and concerns remain about the toxicity of the plant’s seeds and the possibility that it may become an undesirable weed in certain growing conditions, according to the report.
NCT Jacam Energy Company first began daily production of 100 litres of biodiesel at its US$400,000 processing factory last October.
It does not own plantations, but instead purchases raw jatropha from farmers in Kampong Speu, Battambang, and Banteay Meachey for approximately $85 per tonne, Chheuy Sophors said.
Producing 1 kilogramme of biodiesel required three times the amount of unprocessed jatropha seed, he said, and added that the firm would require 6 tonnes of seed per day to meet its production goal of 2,000 litres.
“In three years, we hope that the company will be producing 5,000 litres of biodiesel per day as farmers grow the crop more and more,” he said.
Although NCT is ambitious in its expansion plans, other firms experimenting with the crop have experienced teething problems.
Mong Reththy Group has been growing the crop on 100 hectares in Steung Treng province since 2008, but company President Mong Reththy said yesterday that the firm had no plans to expand its plantation.
He said the plantation had encountered difficulties in recruiting workers to travel to the province, located more than 500 kilometres from Phnom Penh near the Laos border, a factor that stymied its growth plans.
The sector in Cambodia presently consists of three companies that produce between 100 and 500 litres of biodiesel per day, according to Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy.
Another 10 companies at least are studying the feasibility of producing the fuel in Cambodia.
The MIME secretary of state responsible for renewable energy said earlier this year that the government supported all biodiesel production because the fuels are more environmentally friendly than petroleum, and create jobs and economic activity.